5 Most Profitable College Degrees

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When children are asked what they want to be when they grow up, they often reply with occupations such as actor, astronaut, or the President. Unconcerned with student loans, interest rates, job outlooks, or median salaries, as children we choose our dream job based solely on what we think would be a rewarding, fun, and adventurous endeavor.

These days, choosing an enjoyable field of study is only a small piece of the puzzle in determining an ideal college degree program. Tuition cost and job data are also essential considerations. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is a federal entity that collects and analyzes educational data. Tom Snyder, NCES program director of annual reports and information, says it’s prudent to “know the bottom line” when choosing a degree program. To help degree seekers find this information, the NCES recently published reports indicating employment data across specific degree programs. Based on NCES reports, coupled with salary and job outlook data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the following is a list of the five most profitable bachelor’s degree programs.

1. Engineering

Degree seekers have the option of obtaining a general engineering degree or a more concentrated degree, such petroleum engineering. The BLS reports the median annual salary for this occupational group, as a whole, at $74,530, with chemical engineers and petroleum engineers earning higher median annual salaries of $94,350 and $130,280, respectively. Along with a high salary (well above the national median annual household income of $53,046) comes a stable job outlook. Among recent graduates of engineering programs, 96.4 percent are employed. Additionally, while some engineering disciplines are expected to see slower growth, many fields, such as the civil engineering and petroleum engineering fields, are expected to see faster than average growth from 2012 to 2022.

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2. Computer Science and Technology

From video game designer to database engineer, those who study computer science and technology are generally considered highly employable, with an employment rate of graduates of computer science and technology programs at 95.8 percent. The median annual salary within this field ranges from $62,500, for web developers to $102,190, for computer research scientists. The job outlook within the computer technology field is generally favorable, with information security analysts in the hot seat, with 37 percent expected growth from 2012 to 2022.

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3. Biomedical Sciences

Pairing medicine and biology in efforts to promote health and well-being, biomedical science is a growing field. With a 96.4 percent employment rate among graduates from biomedical sciences programs, the biomedical sciences field is expected to see 27 percent growth in employment between 2012 and 2022. The median salary within this field is $86,960 per year.

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4. Physician’s Assistant

The physician’s assistant’s median salary of $90,930 is well above the national household median. Employment of physician’s assistants (PAs) is expected to rise rapidly — 38 percent between 2012 and 2022. PAs must obtain certification and they provide treatment to patients under the supervision of a physician. However, unlike physicians, PAs are not burdened with investments, such as medical school, residency, and malpractice insurance.

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5. Occupational and Physical Therapy

Occupational therapists (median salary of $75,400) and physical therapists (median salary of $79,860) are also rapidly growing healthcare occupations, with 2012 to 2022 employment growth projections of 29 percent and 36 percent, respectively.

While the profitability of a college degree program is determined by how much money it can assist an individual in earning in the future, a degree seeker may also want to consider the initial investment cost of the education. According to Snyder, a degree also has a “sticker price versus a net price.”

“Many colleges offer grants (and students also have) costs associated with books, activities, and transportation,” Snyder says. To determine the net price of tuition, there needs to be a numeric value placed on these other variables to determine the true cost of tuition. Snyder suggests using tools like College Navigator to help find the right degree program. College Navigator is a database of information on U.S. colleges, universities, and degree programs. It provides data ranging from retention and graduation rates to financial aid to athletics.

With all of the costs associated with a college degree, combined with all of the decisions a degree seeker faces regarding the future, the process of choosing a college degree program can become a daunting task. It’s key to bear in mind the ultimate goal — finding a career that makes you happy.

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